Should you take a hot shower or ice bath after a hard workout?

I always struggle with what to do after a hard workout. Maybe you’re like me and all you want to do is take a warm shower, even though you’ve heard there are benefits to ice baths.

…but who wants to sit in a freezing tub of ice water?!

It’s an acquired taste, that’s for sure.

In college after a grueling session of track intervals, Iwould sit in an ice bath wearing booties to prevent my dainty toes from falling off.

During the first two minutes, I’d feel so nauseous from the freezing water that I thought I’d throw up.

Thankfully, my future wife was with me most of the time, so that made it more bearable 🙂

But is this extreme level of discomfort needed for proper recovery?

The good news is that you can actually do without both (for recovery reasons, but I hope you take a shower after you run!). They can be helpful in some situations, but they’re not needed.

In episode 13 of Q&A with Coach, we’re going to discuss:

  • the pros and cons of ice baths (and when to take them)
  • when NOT to take a hot bath
  • the potential drawbacks of hot showers or baths (like a hot tub)
  • whether these recovery treatments are even necessary

Let’s dive into today’s show:

The conflicting ice baths benefits and drawbacks should make you hesitate before taking one every day. They should be used strategically.

Just like taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil, they reduce inflammation in the body.

A good thing, right?

Not necessarily.  Inflammation is needed when you’re training. It’s a “trigger” that prompts your body to get stronger, adapt to your increasing mileage, and ultimately get faster.

Ice baths and NSAIDs reduce the strength of this prompt, limiting the fitness gains you get from a workout.

And as for hot baths or showers, they should be used strategically as well. With a risk of reducing muscle tension, you’ll want to avoid them the day before a hard workout or race.

For me personally, I take an ice bath after some races where I’m particularly sore (like long races of half marathon or longer) or if I do too much, too soon, too fast.

It’s an extra injury prevention measure when I know I’m too sore.

For more on post-run recovery, see the Definite Guide to Marathon Recovery.

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